“Came to watch the sunset?” the man’s words surprise me, especially because I thought he didn’t know I was there.
“No,” I say matter-of-factly, “I came to find you.”
“Really,” he says tilting his head slightly and looking somewhere past me.
“You’re always running away,” I say. I’ve rehearsed possible conversations hundreds of times in my head. “Running away from people; me and everyone else!”
His eyes glint with a bit of bemusement, he can tell I have planned what I’m about to say. He shoves me off track with his next sentence.
“How do you know I’m running away from everything? Maybe I’m running towards something.” After a little bit of silence where I consider this, he says, “So why did you come - last time I mean - when you were… crying.” For half a second I stare at him, my mouth slightly agape. I didn’t expect to be questioned, I thought I’d be the questioner. The amusement in his eyes makes me realize that while he is a few years older than I am, he also believes that he is much more mature.
What I say next is the result of my anger at this realization - I doubt I would have said it otherwise.
“The world,” and then I realize that it’s true - what I said - I was angry at the world. The woods were my escape from it while still being in it.
To my surprise, instead of laughing, his eyes grow sober.
“Yes,” he says softly, “that is a problem.” For a few minutes, we stand there in awkward silence. The birds are silent as if they’re watching us, wondering what will happen.
“Who even are you?” I ask suddenly. He gives a soft laugh and says:
“I could ask the same thing of you; who do you think I am? Or better yet,” he grins, “Who do you know me as?”
“Someone who stole my woods from me,” I say.
“They weren’t yours to begin with,” he replies.
“No, but they’re not anybody’s really,” I say.
“Oh yes they are,” he says. Once again we’re silent. “My name is Torren,” he offers before slipping around the trees and out of view before I can stop him.
The last look he gave me before disappearing makes me think I might have scared him somehow. Maybe, like me, he is a little frightened of people.
One of the times I see Torren we talk about our first conversation. The one we had about who owned the forest. I’m the one to bring it back up again.
“You’re going to judge me for this,” he says, still avoiding my gaze.
“I won’t,” I promise. He grimaces slightly.
“That’s what you say now, but people are always judging, they can’t stop. Honestly, it’s not their fault, it just happens. That’s how the world is.” I watch him, knowing he can feel my gaze and is avoiding my question. “Well,” he says finally, “well, I have to say, God does.”
He looks at me. I don’t say anything for a bit, just look at his burning eyes. Then I smile.
“Yes, He does,” I say. Torren looks confused.
“You really believe that?” he asks looking like at any second I might turn on him.
“Yes,” I say laughing. “Yes, I really do.” Torren blinks.
It’s a while before either of us talks again. When we do, it’s because of a loud crashing noise that must be many miles away, yet still shakes the ground. Torren looks down at the ground.
“Why can’t they just stop?” Torren asks the forest leaves.
“They’ll never stop,” I say as another bang alerts us of a second bomb.
“I’ll never help them fight any sort of war,” Torren says quietly, “Never in a thousand years.”
“When do you think it’ll end?” I ask. “The war I mean.”
“Who knows,” Torren says with a sigh, “maybe in a day maybe in four-hundred years.”
With the war happening and the possibility of dropping bombs, I stay clear of the forest for several months. In all that time I don’t see Torren.
When I next see Torren it’s not in the forest.
I visit our place in the woods and find a note pinned to a tree. It asks me to come. At the bottom of the page is scrawled an address.
By the time I reach the address that was given, my heart is leaping with worry and I’m about to freeze from the chilling wind. I knock on the front door. Once. Twice. Finally, I resort to ringing the doorbell.
I hear the heavy stamping of boots and an older man I imagine to be Torren’s father opens the door. As the wind whistles inside the house, I explain that Torren asked me to come. With an impatient grunt and a jerk of his head, he invites me inside.
It’s only when I step into the room that I realize the man is dressed in a soldier’s uniform. My heart thumps.
However, to my relief, the man introduces himself in a gruff voice as Torren’s father. But as I follow him deeper inside the house, I realize that my hands are shaking badly.
And when I enter the dining room and see Torren, I freeze.
The uniform, the badge, the boots, the belt, the gun… I stare at Torren in the center of the dining room fully clothed in a soldier’s uniform.
Behind me, Torren’s father makes some sounds in his throat.
“I...I’m going to war,” Torren says slowly. I stare at him. “I won’t be fighting…” but that’s when Torren’s father interrupts.
“You may not at the beginning, but I’ll have you fighting by the end. You won’t see the people you kill. Besides, it doesn’t really matter.”
“It most certainly does matter!!” Torren roars, spinning around and dashing up the wooden stairs. I look after him, wondering whether to follow.
“I won’t stop you,” a deep voice rumbles softly, “but in these moods, he can be...different.” I turn and see Torren’s father. He doesn’t look how he sounded a moment ago, all strict and mad. Instead, there’s a lingering melancholy in his eyes.
I walk up the stairs.
As I turn the corner to the room at the end of the hall, I knock.
“Come in,” Torren says stiffly. I slowly open the door.
Torren is a silhouette against three large windows from which light is streaming onto the hardwood floor of his room. On the windowsills are animals skulls, feathers, seashells, a piece of coral. The two bookshelves standing on either side of the windows are filled with books. Various small flutes and pipes are spread across them. Against the back wall, the one I’m closest to is a large piano. And in his hands, Torren holds an elegant violin, poised to play.
“How did you know it was me?” I ask.
“Father never knocks,” Torren replies. After a few tense moments, Torren says in a strained voice, “It’s because he always needs control! Control over his life, over mine! He even needs control over the war! … that’s one thing he won’t be able to get though, the war, and he knows it. So he controls me instead… and I let him.” The end of Torren’s sentence is slow but full of anger. After about a minute of uncomfortable silence, I can’t bear it any longer.
“Can you play all these? The pipes and piano and all?” I ask breaking the silence.
“No, I can only play the violin. The others I just have.”
“Then play it,” I say, watching, waiting. But to my surprise, Torren lowers the instrument. He turns.
“I haven’t played it since my mother died. That was the last day I played and the last day I will.” He set the violin and bow on one of the bookshelves. Disappointed and uncertain of what to say, I stand there in the room flooded with light.
Torren sits down at the piano stool and starts his fingers dancing across the piano keys.
“I thought you said you couldn’t play,” I say.
He turns, “I can’t, I never learned,” he says suddenly slamming his fist onto the deepest note in a thunderous crash.
“You still make beautiful music,” I say. Torren is silent. Staring at the keys under his fingers.
“Tomorrow,” Torren says, “Tomorrow I’m going to war.” There was something in his eyes, something that told me he wasn’t one of those glorious young war hawks who would run off to battle the first chance they got, nor was he a dutiful old officer fighting for his country. Torren was a thinker, he couldn’t fight in a war.
“Well then,” I say, not sure what I should tell him. “Goodbye.”
“Goodbye,” he says standing up. He goes back to the violin and picks it up. I wonder if he’ll play it, play it before he goes to war. But he doesn’t. He stands in the same position he was in when I first came in. Alert, resolute, reflective, but frozen in time.
When I go downstairs I find Torren’s father. He’s sitting in a large chair smoking.
“You can’t do it,” I say. He looks at me in surprise.
“Can’t what?” he asks.
“You can’t make Torren fight because he won’t, and if you put him in battle he’ll be killed!” I say angrily.
I wasn’t planning to run out and I didn’t really realize what I was doing until I had stomped out into the icy air.
That night I stay up, watching a candle burn. Thinking about Torren. And when I wake up the next morning I know that he is already gone.
Anxious, I finally write to Torren. I don’t know if he’ll get my letter, but about a week afterward, I get a note. It’s from Torren. He says that he’s fine and avoids the topic of the war or what he’s doing. I quickly write back to him.
For many months we write back and forth like this. He talks about the people he meets and the things that he sees, but never describes a battle. He never even mentions the war.
When I receive a letter that merely says: ‘Placed in 42nd infantry.’ I doubt that Torren will ever make it home. For the next few weeks, I don’t get any more letters.
When I hear that the 42nd infantry is returning home, I don’t know what emotion to feel. I am scared that he might not return, but I must know. Fear battles with hope.
I wait in my small house, watching a candle like that first night when Torren left. At midnight I still have heard no news from Torren. And yet, I refuse to stop waiting. Dawn comes and finally, I think that he might be gone.
That’s when someone knocks on my door. Leaping from my chair I fling the door open. A man stands there, he hands me an envelope. I take it and shut the door. My hands shake violently. My sight isn’t exactly clear and I sit down to open the letter.
A strange feeling of unrealistic hope floods me as I see Torren’s handwriting, or at least what I think is Torren’s handwriting, although there’s no signature and I’m not ready to be certain of anything. Scrawled on the yellowed paper are the words: ‘Come at once.” I leap outside and run toward Torren’s house.
I am hoping that Torren is alive and that I won’t be met with his sober-faced father who will tell me that he is dead. When I knock on the door, Torren’s father opens the door like he did last time.
“Come in,” he growls in his gruff voice.
I don’t wait for him to say anything else, I come inside and then dart into the living room and up the worn stairs.
The door to Torren’s room stand’s open, the sunlight from the windows filtering out the doorway.
He never had the door open before.
I step into the door’s entrance.
The room is exactly as I saw it last time with the bookshelves and the piano and the feathers, with the fine, clear light streaming onto the floor. And just like last time, Torren stands in front of the central window, his violin poised to play. And as I watch, he slowly draws the bowstring across his instrument and for the first time in several years, music echoes from the little violin making the light flicker to its song.